Montenegro’s President Jakov Milatović said his country has “advanced the furthest” on the path to become a European Union member during a visit of EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
“Montenegro fully harmonises its foreign and security policy with the policy of the European Union and currently has a truly reform-oriented political majority. No other country wanting to be a member of the European Union has all this,” Milatović said on Tuesday from Podgorica.
“The accession of Montenegro to the EU would be a great message to all other candidate countries that the enlargement process is alive.”
“It would be an additional incentive for other candidate countries to continue even more strongly with their reform agenda, which should bring them even closer to the European Union,” he added.
A new coalition government of pro-European, pro-Serb and Albanian minority parties led by Prime Minister Milojko Spajić was appointed by Montenegro’s parliament just in time for von der Leyen’s visit to the country. Spajić’s centrist Europe Now Movement won the snap elections in June but without a clear majority to govern, which sparked months of political bickering.
The deadlock was broken after staunchly anti-Western groups cleared the way for Spajić to govern under the condition that one of their leaders, Andrija Mandić, was elected to the influential position of speaker of parliament.
Not all of Montenegro’s 81 members of parliament were present for the vote on Tuesday morning following overnight discussions, with the new government approved with 46 votes in favour and 19 against.
The new prime minister told reporters earlier on Tuesday that he hoped to “unblock European integration, move forward quickly and become the next member of the European Union.” He also affirmed that his government will continue to be pro-European, despite Madić’s election.
Negotiations on EU membership for Montenegro, a NATO member and the smallest of the Balkan countries, opened in June 2012. But there has been criticism for stalled progress in implementing the necessary institutional and political reforms to clear the way for accession.
An assessment of the country’s progress published last October said that “political volatility, government instability and tensions have stalled decision-making processes and reform implementation.” An updated review of Montenegro’s progress will be included in the European Commission’s annual enlargement report, expected on November 8.
Von der Leyen’s visit is part of a four-day tour of the Western Balkan countries.
She told reporters in Podgorica that “Montenegro has been for a long time the most advanced Western Balkan country on the EU accession part,” adding that she is happy to see the country determined to keep its “pole position.”
“I welcome that you now can be fully focused on the task of the accession objective, and together we should go the last mile, bring it over the finish line,” she added.
During her trip, von der Leyen provided further details on the EU’s €6-billion growth plan for the Western Balkans, aimed at doubling the region’s economy in the next decade. Montenegro has the highest GDP per capita of the Western Balkan countries bidding to get into the bloc, but at 50% of the EU average there is still “untapped potential,” von der Leyen said.
In his bid to earn the backing of parliament to govern, Spajić outlined a vision of “Montenegro as the Switzerland of the Balkans and the Singapore of Europe.”
_This article and headline were corrected because we__erroneously attributed Milatović’s quotes at the beginning of the piece to _Spajić.